This post is sponsored by Flor de Caña

Julie Nguyen shares her inspiration behind her winning drink and her unforgettable experience in Nicaragua.

Julie Nguyen, originally from Hanoi, Vietnam is currently based at Opium Bar in Bangkok and sealed her place in the global final of the Flor de Caña Sustainable Cocktail Challenge after winning the Thailand leg of the semi-finals. Previous to this, when she was still residing in Hanoi, she won the Flor de Caña Sustainable Cocktail Challenge in Vietnam in 2022. Both years of the competition have been life changing for Julie, as she didn’t even have a passport until she made the regional finals in Thailand in 2022, and it’s also where she got the job offer for Opium and prompted her move to Bangkok. Julie says: “Since the last competition, it inspired me to never give up. Be yourself and express what you love.”

The global finals in Nicaragua featured 32 participants participating in a two-day elimination round to determine the top three finalists. These bartenders then showcased their talents in the Sustainable Market Challenge, where they crafted innovative cocktails utilising local Nicaraguan ingredients and sustainable practices and Flor de Caña, a premium aged rum that dates back to 1890 and is the world’s first Carbon Neutral and Fair Trade certified spirit.

Julie’s winning drink “From Sip to Seed” features Flor de Caña 12 Year Rum, corn cob and kernel milk, corn husk syrup and local salt smoked with corn cob saline solution. The garnishes were corn silk powder, corn chips and mochi made from leftover corn milk and the drink was presented atop a corn husk coaster made from leftover corn husk syrup.

Julie used corn as her main ingredient as she drew inspiration from the beautiful corn islands in Nicaragua and on her way to work, she often passed street vendor carts where they sell lots of corn and she saw lots of waste from the byproducts. “I wanted to make use of the waste. Corn is one of the most consumed foods in the world, however I feel people don’t often make the best use of it, with most parts often wasted. Corn is an all year round product, cheap and easily found anywhere in the world, and I use every part of the corn in the drink.”

Julie also uses local products like palmyra sugar, coconut milk and local salt to support local businesses and reduce transport emission. The mild sweetness from corn, creaminess from coconut milk and the rich flavour of palmyra sugar when combined with the toffee and the all spice notes of of Flor de Caña create a cocktail with a complex flavour and rich, creamy, mouthfeel but still make the rum the star of the drink.

Julie admits she didn’t know much about sustainability prior to joining the competition, saying: “It interested me and I wanted to give it a go, but I wasn’t too sure about how to create a sustainable cocktail. The competition helped me learn and now I practice it so much more in my daily life. It’s as simple as using local products and thinking about what I create everyday. When you create a cocktail or ingredient, think about what’s leftover and what you can do with it so you don’t waste anything.”

Winning wasn’t just the best part for Julie, and she says she’s loved meeting people from all over the world. “All the competitors have become friends and we support each other, and Nicaragua is so beautiful. I encourage all bartenders to enter the competition as it’s changed my life. My best moments were the welcome dance and drink and the stage was such an amazing backdrop to present from. I enjoyed every moment up there as it was my last moment to make an impression!”